Friday, June 27, 2014

Deruta---Nirvana for Pottery Lovers

There are > 200 ceramic workshops in the town of Deruta, Italy---that’s one shop for every 40 citizens living in the Umbrian village of 8,000.  Before even arriving in the city limits of Deruta one recognizes the importance of pottery when a large, colorful sign welcomes visitors to the “Town of Ceramics.”   Once inside the medieval hill-town, however, evidence abounds on why it is one of the most important centers in all of Italy for hand-painted pottery:  streets are lined with factory showrooms which spill their vividly-colored contents onto sidewalks; street signs are hand-painted in flamboyant Deruta patterns;  names of bakeries, cafés and delicatessens are announced in vibrant pottery signage.  Ceramics are the heart-beat of Deruta.

Production of this glorious terracotta began in the early Middle Ages, however, Deruta reached its artistic pinnacle in the 16th century.  Taking inspiration from Renaissance master painters such as Raffaello, Deruta artisans of the 1500’s were considered the best in the country.  To this day, this town’s masterpieces are coveted not only in Italy, but are prized throughout Europe, the U.S., and Asia.  Unfortunately, Deruta has become so renowned that prices have dramatically increased.  It’s not unusual for a coffee mug to cost >$25 in the U.S.

Those who will be coming in June 2015 for the Umbrian villa rental (there are only 2 spaces remaining) will have the opportunity to visit a Deruta workshop that has been owned by the same family for nearly 70 years.  You’ll be able to watch the entire process from the unformed clay, through the shaping process, to the painstaking hand-painting, then through the firing and glazing.  There will be plenty of time allowed for shopping…and most showrooms will ship purchases back home.  Looking for a bargain?  Some shops have a “seconds” rack where one can pick up an item with a small imperfection for considerably less.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Red China

For the first time in history, a country other than France is now the number one consumer of red wine.  The country?  China.  The Chinese drank nearly 1.9 billion bottles of red wine during 2013.  France, whose consumption of red wine fell by nearly 20% from 2007 – 2013, is now the second largest consumer.  The huge popularity of red wine by China is attributed in part to their cultural norms about color:   red signifies good luck and prosperity, while the color white suggests death and mourning.

The increasing consumption of red wine by China is reflective in the upsurge of French wineries that have been purchased recently by the Chinese.  Both Burgundy and Bordeaux have seen dramatic increases in vineyard purchases by investors from China.  In January, 2014 it was estimated that in Bordeaux alone there were at least 60 chateaux owned by Chinese---the actual figure is somewhat difficult to nail down as many of the transactions are shrouded in secrecy.  It’s not unusual for holding companies outside of China to purchase a chateau on behalf of Chinese investors, only later to reveal that the buyers were Chinese.

All of this has created controversy in France. According to the Wine Spectator, a Beijing businessman recently placed on offer of $164.2 million for a classified-growth in the Medoc.  The French seller pulled out at the last minute.  The reason for this is unknown, however, it is a fact that many French have mixed feelings about selling to foreigners….many feel the French heritage is under threat, while others welcome the increased demand for French wine in Asia.  Further adding to the chasm is the vast cultural differences, as well as the divergent business norms of the French and Chinese.

Now, for the good news.  The United States remains the largest consumer of all types of wine.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Take Time to Smell the Rosés

I’ve professed my love affair with dry rosés numerous times on this Blog.  To me they are the quintessential summer aperitif.  But, did you know there are two very different ways to make a rosé?  Let me explain.

The first method is made by simply mixing a white wine with red wine.  For all of you horrified at the thought, chill!  In many parts of France this is a common method.  For example, in Champagne it is quite typical to blend Pinot Noir with Chardonnay.  In the Rhone Valley, mixing red with white is often the norm.  The southern part of the Rhone is home to the illustrious Chateauneuf du Pape.  Red and white grape varietals are allowed in both the reds of Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as the white wines of the region. 

The southern Rhone is also home to the fabulous rosés of Provence.  While Provencal rosé is often made by mixing together red and white wines, it can also be made by the second method, saignée.  Pronouced “sen-yay,” this technique is named after the French work for “bleeding.”   In the saignée method, very young red wine juice that is only pink-tinged is removed from the vat early in the fermentation process.  This pale grape juice is then separately fermented to produce rosé.  In effect, the rosé is “bled” off from the infant red wine, thus the name.

There are arguments for which method produces the best rosé but the proof will be in your glass.   Take some time to smell (and taste) the plethora of available rosés this summer…and decide for yourself.

Friday, June 6, 2014

June Wines


Summer is almost here and for me it means switching to warm weather wines that can easily be served to guests for poolside sipping, enjoyed as an aperitif, or as an accompaniment to dinner as we watch the sunset over the distant Pacific.  Any of the following should add some magic to my namesake-month.

Gruner Veltliner:
Don’t let the name scare you away.  Even if you can’t pronounce it, you need to know it.  An exotic alternative to Sauvignon Blanc, this grape is Austria’s showcase varietal.  Think mango and peach.  With a solid acid framework, this one should float to the top of your June list---and, it’s worth the search.

I have blogged several times about this Italian bombshell.  Native to Italy’s coastline near Portofino and the neighboring island of Sardenia, this is pure bliss in a glass.  A very aromatic grape, Vermentino offers up a sexy fruit and floral nose, along with a taste profile of citrus laced with pears and apples.  How do you say yummy in Italian?

Dry Rosé:
There are some killer rosés from both California and southern France available.  If you’re in the California mood, look no further than La Crema’s version.  We’ve conducted several blind tastings of rosés over the years and this one always floats to the top. 

I’m a red wine girl but I don’t particularly enjoy complex, cerebral reds in the heat of the summer.  That being said, I’m wild about the lighter red grape from Sicily by the name of Frapatto.  This one is filled with strawberries and raspberries on the front end, with plums on the back.